In my experience pre-hostel stay, hostels pretty much had two distinct stereotypes surrounding their quality and the experience you’ll have during your stay: one glorifying them, saying the dirt cheap prices and the worldly people you’ll meet will create an unmatched, incredible, life-changing stay that will give you endless stories all of your friends will be jealous of for years to come; one saying they’re terrifying places, forcing you into a small room with dangerous strangers that will steal all of your belongings and murder you in your sleep.
As someone who funded my entire semester by myself and had an extensive list of destination goals, the low prices were enough for me to risk the rest. This doesn’t mean I wasn’t completely terrified for my first stay in a room with 18 of my closest friends in a completely foreign city- alone.
With the ‘they can’t be that bad, how would they stay open if they were that bad?’ mindset and having read countless reviews on countless hostels in London, I picked one that seemed okay to the best of my abilities and braced myself for a terrifying weekend.
If you’ve read any of my other blog posts, you know everything went pretty well- I survived with zero robberies, no assaults, and even managed to enjoy myself and learn something along the way.
One thing I couldn’t help but think along the way was “wow, I wish another young, solo traveling girl could’ve told me all of these things before so I wouldn’t have been so stressed out trying to figure it out myself!”
Well, if you fit that description (or even if you don’t), I’m here to hold your hand and tell you everything you need to know about how to have a safe, relaxing, enjoyable, stress-free stay in a hostel in Europe.
1. Location is everything!
To be honest, every decently rated hostel is about the same. You’re going to have a small bed, likely in a room with a bunch of strangers, with a shared bathroom. As far as safety inside goes, all of the establishments care about it just as much as you do. But, one thing I found to be extra important to my feeling secure in my solo travels was having a hostel in a good location. Chances are, you’re going to walk alone at night at least once during your trip. This is a lot less nerve racking when your walk is short and/or your destination is on a busy street. This means finding a hostel close to the places you plan to go on your trip, close to a metro station, or at least on a street that has you alone with a bunch of light with a lot of people instead of alone on a dark street with one or two other people lurking in the shadows. I found mapping the address of the locations I had in mind in relation to all of these aforementioned things was the easiest way to achieve this. Additionally, I found googling the neighborhood of the hostel was not the best way to feel safe. The safety and security can change street to street in a city, and no matter how safe the neighborhood is, you’re never going to feel great walking alone for a long period of time in the dark on a quiet street.
2. Spending a few extra dollars a night to have an ensuite and lower bed count in you room will make all the difference
During my first hostel stay, I just chose the absolute cheapest option for a woman-only room. This meant a room with 18 beds, and bathrooms down the hall. While this was okay and felt like exactly what I paid for, I didn’t realize how comfortable I could be in a hostel until my next stay in a room with six beds and an attached bathroom. I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but being able to walk a few short steps to the bathroom in the privacy of your own room felt much cozier than having to trek down a hallway while preparing yourself for interactions with strangers. Additionally, the smaller bed count made for less strange noises at night (and in turn a better night of sleep), and a much higher likelihood of making connections with the other people in your room.
3. Talk to the other people in you room!
As I got more used to staying in hostels, I also got more comfortable talking to the other people around me. This is where the unique and exciting stories of hostel staying can begin, and it’s an amazing way to learn about people from around the world! Like, where else are you going to connect with a fashion seller from Portugal or a student from Argentina or an Irish professor living in Paris? Even without all of the *exciting* stuff, getting to know the people around you when you literally have to live in the same room as them for the length of your stay will make you feel much more comfortable. It can even lead to having someone to go dinner with, recommendations for unexpected things to do in the city and surrounding areas, and real life friendships!
4. Hostel chains like Generator or St. Christophers are nice, but not always guaranteed to be the best option
Many people think that staying in the big chains will ensure you have the nicest and safest stay possible, but I don’t feel like this is necessarily true. While I stayed in a Generator in Barcelona and a St. Christophers in London and had a great time, I really only liked them because of their great location. Any profound and exciting experiences I had were in smaller hostels with good reviews on Google, my times in chains were just sufficient. I have a friend that stayed in a chain hostel in Paris, but due to its terrible location, she had a terrible time. Do your own research instead of trusting these places are the best just because they’re successful.
5. Look for fun amenities to enhance your stay
Free breakfast? An on-site bar? Free pub crawls, cooking classes, and walking tours? These are all things that may seem insignificant, touristy, or dumb, but are really an amazing way to get to know others in your hostel and see the city from the point of view of a real local, not just a tourism agency that wants your money. At Hostel of the Sun in Naples, Italy, a free daily breakfast cooked by two employees in a tiny kitchen is offered. Not only was the breakfast delicious, it was also an amazing way to bond with the other people staying there. I will never forget the long conversation I had with a 60-year-old Irish man over breakfast, in which he offered me amazing, actually helpful life advice and told me all about his years and years of solo traveling and hostel staying. When I stayed at Yellow Square hostel in Rome, the band playing at their bar brought me up on stage and we sang “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse together to a crowd of people from all around the world. None of this would’ve been possible if I hadn’t taken advantage of the opportunities I was given, and now that I know what can happen with these extra little things, I’m excited to stay in more hostels to experience more unexpected things like these.
6. Ask the hostel employees for recommendations
Hostel employees aren’t tourism agencies. They generally aren’t affiliated with any other businesses in the area. They’re just locals that have a job in a hostel. For this reason, they can give you wonderful recommendations of actually good places to eat or things to see. Also in Naples, I asked the front desk for their recommendation of a place to eat dinner. The recommendation he gave received a bunch of “yeah, go there!!”s from other people sitting in the lobby, and the restaurant ended up being one of my favorites I went to in Europe. With occasional live Italian music, enthusiastic chants and laughs from employees and other visitors, a tiny seating area and wonderful food, this was truly a local place that I never would’ve found without the help of the employee.
7. Little things to make your stay more comfortable
A sleeping mask will make your night of sleep exponentially more peaceful. The other people in your room, although generally respectful of those trying to sleep, are going to produce some light while you’re trying to sleep. I found wearing a sleeping mask made distractions like this much easier to avoid!
Bringing your own lock will also make your stay feel much more secure. Generally, a hostel will have a locker or drawer that you can lock your things in, but the lock is often not provided. Although many hostels have locks you can rent or buy, it’s easier to just have your own.
A bottom bunk is much more cozy than a top bunk. If you can choose, choose the bottom!
8. Above all else, trust your gut!!!!
All of these suggestions are things I learned that made my stays easier, but I only learned them through trial and error and by taking note of how I was feeling. If something doesn’t feel right to you, you can go somewhere else! That $20 a night you might be losing due to changing your mind last-minute will not be detrimental to your back account. Additionally, a talk with the front desk or a call home to Mom is always okay too. As much as we don’t want to admit it, we’re young. We’re not meant to have everything figured out. Reaching out, even just to ease your mind, is always okay and justifiable.